By Ryan Hickey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -Dreams of standing on the podium and being called
a national champion will be fulfilled by 10 wrestlers and one team, as the
weekend every wrestler has been looking forward to since last March is upon
After 16 dual meets, two tournaments and one conference tournament, the
biggest weekend in wrestling is here as head coach Cael Sanderson and the
Nittany Lions get set for the NCAA Championships.
Going into the biggest weekend of the season, there is a chance for
potential rematches. Besides making small adjustments, Sanderson believes
having the right attitude is the most important factor and a good mindset can
carry you farther than skill can.
"I would always take attitude over technique any day. When you have the
right attitude and you are coming up just a little short, then it's usually
something technical," said Sanderson. "When you are in the Big Ten, you have
the tendency to wrestle the same guy over and over again. The right attitude
usually wins out in the long run because if you have the right attitude, you
are going to improve technically as well."
Making his fourth and final appearance at the national tournament, Nico
Megaludis has finished as the finalist twice along with a third place crown.
Entering his final go-around, it is easy to be nervous or put more pressure on
himself to win. Sanderson thinks the senior has the perfect mindset heading
into the last tournament of the season. Being relaxed and focused, Sanderson
knows that Megaludis wrestles his best at Nationals and is very confident that
he is going to be at his peak at Madison Square Garden.
"I think Nico is in a great state of mind. He's very relaxed and he's
focused," said Sanderson. "Nico's always wrestled his best tournament at the
Nationals. He's beat guys that have beaten him throughout the year and we
believe and I would say know, that he's going to be at his best this week."
Having three senior starters on the team not only provides wisdom, but
also brings the experience of winning team titles. Having strong senior classes
has been a staple in the Sanderson regime, and the seventh year head coach
expects to have another strong showing from his seniors at these Nationals. With
the likes of Matt Brown, David Taylor, Ed Ruth and others winning in their
final season has Sanderson believing his seniors Megaludis, Jordan Conaway, and
Morgan McIntosh can continue the trend and earn their first individual
championship Saturday night.
Despite winning four of the last five team national titles, the 2015-16
squad does not have a individual national champion. The lack of experience in
conquering the ultimate prize is not a concern of Sanderson, who believes the
mentality he and the coaching staff instill in the team each day is enough to
teach them how to get over the hump and become individual champions. Leading by
example, the four-time national champ exudes confidence throughout the team and
by preaching to his team to carry the same mentality into each match, Nationals
will seem like a regular match.
The national tournament isn't just a time to crown champions, but also a
pivotal time to expand the coverage of the sport. With the attention ratcheted
up to an all-time high, Sanderson is excited to see that the sport is growing
across the country and believes Nationals is the perfect event to develop
"If you go to the tournament for the first time and maybe you aren't a
wrestling fan, you are going to leave a wrestling fan," said Sanderson. "It's
just an incredible energy and the atmosphere and the intensity with the
individual title race coupled with the team race, it's the best thing in
With the big stage come distractions. Trying to stay focused can be hard
at times with all of the fanfare surrounding Nationals. Each wrestler has their
own strategy for staying focused and blocking out everything else. For
McIntosh, he believes that it's a decision to allow those thoughts in your head
and play games with his mind, so he works on blocking those thoughts out. For
Retherford, he deleted all of his social media accounts and responds only to
family and friends over text messaging with short replies.
In order to be the lone team standing on top of the podium for the fifth
time in six years, Sanderson knows his nine grapplers are not only going to
have to win, but score those bonus points that create separation from the rest
of the field. Not only does wrestling a defensive style and wrestling not to
lose not only prevent the possibility of getting those extra points, but in
Sanderson's mind, is just plain boring and doesn't give the fans a reason to
Looking back on his career as it culminates this weekend, McIntosh is
gracious for the way everything has worked out in his years as a Penn Stater.
"I'm very grateful. I couldn't ask for a better place to be or a better
team to be on or a better bunch of guys to hangout with all the time. Gratitude
is definitely something Coach Cael talks to us about and that's always on our
mind," McIntosh said.